Bok Tower Gardens offer 50 acres of well-tended gardens with year-round color and winding paths lined with azaleas and camellias, best enjoyed in February and March.
Start at the Visitor Center where a 10-minute film sets the scene for your visit to this unique National Historic Landmark. Enjoy the exhibits which tell of the life of Edward Bok, a Dutch immigrant who became Editor of Ladies Home Journal, won a Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography and worked successfully in the world of publishing.
Highlights of the Gardens
Follow the meandering paths through the gardens admiring the labeled plants, flowering shrubs and the annual and perennial borders all enhanced by brass sculptures of Florida birdlife, actually created by Bok’s President, David Price Gartenhelfer. Make your own discovery as you walk through the Endangered Plant Garden; take time to sit overlooking the pond in the bird hide known as the “Window on the Pond”. Patience may be rewarded with sightings of a blue heron, jays, darting dragonflies, butterflies, gallinules and the colorful plumage of wood ducks.
Highlights at Bok Gardens include the Mock Blue Ginger with its magnificent blue blooms, and the Victoria water lily which has rimmed leaves more than a meter in diameter and huge blooms which open at dusk.
Discover the greenhouses, the White Garden and the Japanese lantern as you make your way to the Singing Tower, built of pink marble and local cochinea. It has a stunning brass door depicting scenes from creation and at the upper level of this 205-foot high tower is the bell tower with a decorative design of open multicolored tiles. It is made doubly delightful when seen in the reflecting pool, graced by two resident white swans.
History of Bok Tower Gardens
The land on which Bok Tower Gardens was created was purchased initially to preserve it as a bird sanctuary, giving migrating flocks a place to rest, feed and replenish their strength. This high point, deceptively known as Iron Mountain and at 300 feet one of the highest points in the state, was a favorite spot for Edward Bok to enjoy evening walks to view the sunsets from his nearby home.
Once he had secured the land he brought in the best craftsmen in the land to create landscaped gardens and his Singing Tower which was designed to house a 60-bell carillon.
The Singing Bell Tower at Bok Gardens
The gardens were designed by Fredrick Olmsted Jr, whose father designed New York’s Central Park. The tower was designed by architect Milton Medary, the sculpture was carved in place by Lee Lawrie and the bronze bells were cast by John Taylor Bellfounders in Loughborough England and shipped to Florida. The Singing Tower was dedicated upon its completion in 1929 by President Calvin Coolidge.
The tower was built specifically to accommodate a 60-bell carillon and each afternoon at 1pm and 3pm a 30-minute concert can be enjoyed as the soft music drifts over the gardens. Master Carilloneur, William De Turk, plays a range of classics from powerful hymns and Bach preludes to film theme tunes and arrangements specially written for carillon. Few musicians in the world can play the complex carillon, with its many foot pedals and wooden batons which strike the melodious brass bells, weighing anything from 16 pounds to 11 tons.
Pinewood Estate House
In the 1970s an adjoining property was purchased and added to Bok Gardens to increase the gardens and add a beautiful estate home. Built for the Buck family, it was a much-loved family residence, filled with European treasures and furnishings. It has heavy carved doorways and delightful views out to the formal gardens and fountain. Knowledgeable docents tell the story of the house and point out the details in each of the 20 rooms.
Gillian Birch is a freelance travel writer and part-time resident of The Villages in Central Florida. As the wife of a Master Mariner, she has traveled extensively and lived in some exotic locations all over the world, including Europe, the Far East and the Republic of Panama. Her love of writing meant she kept detailed journals which are a valuable source of eye-witness information for her many published magazine articles and destination reviews.
Describing herself as having ‘endless itchy feet and an insatiable wanderlust’, she continues to explore Florida and further afield, writing about her experiences with wonderful clarity and attention to detail.